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An air compressor will do everything from simple tasks like airing up a flat tire to running high-speed air-powered tools. Beware, though: The selection is nearly mind-boggling, with specialized compressors made in all shapes and sizes for a wide variety of different uses. This guide will help you zero in on the best air compressor for your needs.

Why an Air Compressor Is a Must-Have Tool

Air compressors are one of those topics that seldom come up in everyday conversations. Sure, a couple of hardcore tool lovers might sit around over a beer and compare their brand new compressors like proud Dads bragging about their kids. To them, compressors are must have tools. But for most people, air compressors just aren’t important.

That is until they walk out to their car and see that the air in one of their tires is too low to drive on it safely. Then, suddenly an air compressor seems like the handiest tool in the world! If the stranded person owns one, he or she can air the tire up to the proper inflation and be on the way. But if he or she doesn’t own one, it’s time to start the messy task of changing a tire or ordering up an Uber to avoid being late for work—again.

While most people think of compressors as simple tire inflation tools, they are so much more than that. They can run power tools, fill inflatable pools and rafts, be used to clean devices, and a number of other tasks. Let’s take a look at what’s available on the market, and how to choose the best air compressor for you.

Do you need a fast, powerful truck or car air compressor?

Most portable air compressors can be powered by your car’s electrical accessory outlet (cigarette lighter), but these are very slow to fill tires. That may not be an issue if you’re home, but if you need to air down your tires to drive on sand or rocky terrain and must put air back before hitting the pavement, get a compressor that clamps straight to your vehicle’s battery. Such a compressor will fill tires quickly and get you back on the road fast.

Best Portable Air Compressor: VIAIR Portable Compressor

Smart Design

This auto tire air compressor can inflate your standard car tires in seconds. VIAIR

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Attach the clamps directly to your car battery, attach the chuck to the tire valve, and watch that tire inflate. The powerful unit includes a ‎25-foot five-in-1 inflator/deflator air Hose with inline 100 PSI gauge, an anti-vibration tray, and a carry bag.

Air compressors for big jobs

While mini air compressors are quite useful, if you need a high-pressure air compressor to do construction or mechanical work, or if you own a lot of vehicles, you’re going to need to look at a bigger, more powerful model.

In a nutshell, you’ll need a compressor with a 10 gallon or larger air storage tank and one that runs at very high pressure. Many of these will be powered by gasoline, although some are powered by a typical garage electrical outlet. 

Best Air Compressor For Running Power Tools: California Air Tools 10020C

Sturdy Construction

This oil-free 110-volt compressor is powerful, easy to start and very quiet. California Air Tools

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The CAT-10020C Air Compressor has an Oil-Free Dual Piston pump designed to have a life cycle before wear of-3000 plus hours. The Oil-Free pump allows for use in a variety of temperatures, including cold. The large 10-gallon steel air tank with wheel kit makes it very easy to move around the jobsite, shop or garage. It plugs into a standard household outlet.

Is noise a concern?

Historically, air compressors have been extremely hard on the ears, especially when used in small, enclosed areas. In fact, it was nearly impossible to hold a conversation, even yelling, with a compressor running nearby. Thankfully, many newer models are made much quieter specifically to be more hearing-friendly.

Noise levels over 70 dB for extended periods of time can start to damage your hearing. Loud noise over 120 dB can cause immediate, lasting harm to your ears. Fortunately, some compressors now on the market produce noise below the 60 dB level, making them much safer to use, especially indoors.

Best Quiet Air Compressor: California Air Tools 8010A

Hearing Friendly

This powerful compressor can be used for a wide variety of tasks, while producing a noise level of only 60 dB. California Air Tools

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The oil-free compressor is engineered for high performance and durability. This pump is designed to have a life cycle before wear of 3,000-plus hours compared to other comparable compressors with life cycles of 500 hours or less. The large 8-gallon, rust-free aluminum air tank is lightweight (only 38 pounds), and the wheel kit makes it very easy to transport. Best of all, it’s quiet enough that it won’t damage your hearing, even with extended use.

Air compressors for home and travel

When it comes to air compressors, buying the biggest one you can find might not be the best purchasing strategy. In fact, many companies make quality mini compressors that do some of the same jobs of a larger model without taking up as much space in your garage or workshop.

Mini compressors really shine when it comes to simple tasks like airing up vehicle tires and tires for recreational “toys” like bicycles, ATVs and 4-wheelers. Plug in your mini compressor and you can get those tires aired up and ready to go so you spend more time doing what you want, instead of loading up those conveyances and driving to a gas station air pump—and paying to use it.

Best Air Compressor for Light Use: Prow Portable Air Compressor

Great Value

This little compressor will do just about any home or auto inflation job—inside or out. PROW

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This handy little compressor plugs directly into a house outlet or a cigarette lighter socket of your vehicle, so you can use it anywhere you need to. It has a large, clear analog pressure display gauge for maximum accuracy with unit conversion that measures up to 100 PSI. Plus, it is suitable for inflation of basketballs, footballs, other sport balls, pools, golf cart tires and other small tires.

Budget Air Compressors: What you get for under $23

Truth be told, you don’t have to have $150 to blow in order to get a decent air compressor, especially if you don’t need anything big and powerful. But when shopping for a budget compressor be sure to weigh your needs against the cost savings. A cheap compressor that won’t do the job you need it for is going to be more expensive in the long run than a little more expensive one that is able to handle any task you throw at it.

Best Cheap Air Compressor for Car: AstrolAl Portable Air Pump

Tiny But Mighty

At only 8.4 by 6.6 inches in length, this little compressor is compact but still quite powerful. AstroAI

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The AstroAl mini compressor has lots of great features for a unit so small. You can program it to inflate to a desired pressure. It can inflate a normal size car tire from 0 to 35 psi in less than five minutes. Three different nozzles allow the unit to inflate any Schrader valve on cars, SUVs, motorcycles and bicycles. Included accessories make it easy to quickly inflate balls, air pillows, cushions, balloons and air mattresses.

FAQs

Q: What is the best air compressor for home use?

The best compressor for home use totally depends on what you’ll be using the compressor for. If you’ll just be airing up tires occasionally, a small air compressor that runs off a car’s accessory outlet will likely serve you best. If you want to run power tools with it, you’ll need to look at bigger, more powerful models with air tanks.

Q: What is the best type of compressor?

The best type of compressor is the one that will do the job fast, where it needs to be done. If you need to fill tires only occasionally, a small air compressor powered by a car accessory outlet is all you need. If you need to fill a lot of tires, get a compressor that runs directly off of your car’s battery. If you need a compressor for home use, you’ll need a compressor powered by household current.

A final tip about air compressors

Don’t get an air compressor that’s not powerful enough for the job. Waiting around for a small air compressor to fill a tire or a raft only leads to frustration—and an overworked compressor, which could fail if pushed too far. Choose an air compressor that’s suited for the size of the items you need to inflate.

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